We have all seen this shocking scene in dozens of movies.
A main “good-guy” character, kills someone, or does some other heinous act, and as he is fleeing the scene, he turns to the camera, and rips off a super-realistic mask, revealing the true identity of the villain below.
Science-fiction, right? Not necessarily. Such hyper-realistic masks are now real, and they can pose all kinds of threats to national security.
These silicone masks are so incredibly detailed, complete with hair, freckles and wrinkles. They cover the head and chest of the wearer, and include holes for the eyes and mouth which blend seamlessly with the wearer’s skin to create a lifelike appearance, and just like in those movies, they can, and are being used in “identity theft” kinds of crimes.
In fact, law enforcement experts say these masks are so lifelike they can even fool facial recognition anti-terrorist software!
There have been a number of prominent cases of people successfully using these masks to fool others. In 2010, CNN reported that an Asian man in his twenties passed through Hong Kong Passport Control undetected, despite wearing a mask that disguised him as an elderly white man which resembled the individual in his stolen passport. He was only detected when a fellow traveler noticed that he had removed the mask during his flight to Canada. The mask wearer was apprehended by the police on landing.
In 2016, in a widely reported story, an African American man was arrested after being identified from CCTV as the assailant in a bank robbery. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, however. It later transpired that the bank robber was in fact a white man wearing a mask. The true perpetrator was only caught when his girlfriend phoned the police to say that she had found a hyper-realistic mask and a bag of money in his closet, after which the police finally put two and two together.
More recently, in 2019, the BBC ran a report entitled, “The fake French minister in a silicone mask who stole millions”. Here, identity fraudsters used a hyper-realistic mask to mimic France’s minister of defense, Jean-Yves Le Drian, as they sought money from people in a hostage scam. It was estimated that the scheme defrauded individuals of over $80 million. The suspect was only revealed after a linguistic slip of the tongue in which he used the word “vous” rather than “tu” during a conversation.
If you want to get an idea of just how shockingly realistic these masks can be, take a look at this YouTube video.